The Texas Legislature is debating bills intended to help more students graduate from high school, by reducing the emphasis on standardized tests and increasing the emphasis on the kinds of education they need to be productive members of the workforce.
This week, the House passed House Bill 5, which would let high school students take a path to college or take a route intended to lead them more quickly to work. The bill also would drop the number of STAAR exams from 15 to 5.
Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig will be measuring the impact of this bill and others in tended to improve public education in Texas. He says one concern is that students who graduate from high school without core courses can’t get into college if they decide to later. And he’s concerned about the impact particularly on African American and Latino students, who are the majority in K through 12, but not in higher ed.
"We’ll know if this works if 20 years down the road we see African Americans and Latinos better represented in institutions of higher education across the state today," he said. "We’ll know if we see trades people and other career ready African American and Latino students in business and corporations across the state."
Heilig teaches at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. He says even the college track students are suffering from a shortage of teachers in key areas like math and science, which he traces to budget cuts enacted in the last legislative session.
Deann Lee, state president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, is more optimistic about what she called the “flexibility” that these bills can bring. Lee said she believes the number of end-of-course exams have caused dropout rates to jump in Texas, although others say research is inconclusive.
"The dropout rate has been a huge concern. We already have seen the effect of that in just a short amount of time that the present system is in place," Lee said.
Next week, the Senate may take up the first of its education bills, SB 3. It also guides students toward college or more directly to the workforce.